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By the early 1820s, Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) was at the peak of his creative powers. He operated his own studio, had numerous pupils and demand for his work was consistently high.

Without much apparent effort, he churned sketches by the hundreds, for books or single-sheet woodblock prints. His subjects of predilection were kabuki actors and coquettish belles, but in his long career, he touched upon a cornucopia of themes. Not yet 40, he was already well on his way to becoming the most successful print designer — if not the most original — in the entire history of ukiyo-e.

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PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)